NewsColumbine: 25 Years Later


Frank DeAngelis reflects on Columbine 25 years later & shares story about a single key that saved so many

DeAngelis served as principal at Columbine High School for 15 more years after the shooting that killed 13 and wounded 24 others
Posted: 5:26 PM, Apr 19, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-20 11:47:34-04
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Frank DeAngelis was making a difference long before April 20, 1999.

“I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant,” DeAngelis said. “And someone told me, ‘Frank, you chose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ So, I decided to go back and be a teacher. I loved cafeteria duty because I got to be with the kids.”

It’s just that what happened on that infamous date in 1999 made his life and legacy all the more purposeful.

“Twenty-five years — it’s hard to believe,” DeAngelis said. “The thing that does somewhat surprise and amaze me is that we’re still talking about it.”

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Frank DeAngelis in his office.

Still talking about all the heroics that happened on that fateful day, like the actions of DeAngelis.

“My secretary runs in, and she says, ‘There’s a report of gunfire.’ And I’m like, this cannot be happening – this has to be a senior prank. I’ve been at Columbine for 20 years and I can count on two hands the number of fistfights we’ve had,” DeAngelis said. “And all of the sudden I come out of my office and it’s my worst nightmare. Glass is breaking behind me from the shots, and the gunman’s coming towards me, and the barrel of the shotgun looked to be the size of a cannon.”

In that moment, DeAngelis knew he had to protect who he could.

“As the gunman was coming toward me and coming toward the girls coming out of the gym, Dave Sanders is coming up the hallway and that gunman spotted him and turned around,” DeAngelis said. “He shot Dave and that split second likely saved our lives. And that’s something — that’s just who Dave was.”

In the next instant, DeAngelis and that group of about 20 girls bolted toward a back room in the gym.

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DeAngelis keeps this key on his wall from April 20, 1999.

“Pull on the gym door and it’s locked,” DeAngelis said. “And we’re trapped in this little alcove. And as the gunman comes around the corner, I reach into my pocket, and I had 30 keys on this key ring, and the first key I stuck in it opened it up on the first try.”

DeAngelis then locked the girls in that storage area.

“It was a storage area for the gymnastics stuff and then I locked the door behind me,” DeAngelis said. “And we had a light moment for a minute. I said, ‘Let’s come up with a password.’ And all of the sudden these girls, ‘Well, what about orange? What about blue? What about pink?’ And I said, ‘Timeout. Let’s just call it Rebels.’ And we kind of laughed at that point. There’s that special bond.”

He would eventually get them all out safely.

A moment nothing short of miraculous.

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Frank DeAngelis' office

“I had very little to do with finding the key that day,” DeAngelis said. “And that key is hanging on the wall over there. That’s the key.”

DeAngelis' home office is now full of priceless photos and keepsakes.

“There is hope,” he said. “I think that’s what Columbine represents.”

DeAngelis remained principal of the school until 2014 so he could watch every student graduate who was in the district at the time of the shooting, from the seniors who graduated just a month after the shooting, all the way down to the kids who were preschoolers at the time of the massacre.

If ever there was a man built for a moment, it’s DeAngelis.

“Even with everything I went through — I’d go back and do it again,” DeAngelis said. “I loved being an educator.”

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Frank DeAngelis with the Olympic Torch

He’s often the first person leaders call after similar tragedies.

“It may take a little from me, but if I can help others, that’s what it’s about,” DeAngelis said.

And while that might overwhelm and break most of us, he seems to handle it all in stride.

“I’m going to show you something that helps me,” DeAngelis said as he undoes his tie. “This is what’s called a touchstone. So, anytime something like Parkland happens, I just grasp this saying, ‘This isn’t April 20, 1999.’ And it takes me back to where I need to be.”

DeAngelis said he’s still in counseling today.

“If you don’t help yourself, you’re never going to help others,” he said.

A man made for a profession, made for this moment.

“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” DeAngelis said. “I can say this without hesitation: The Columbine community is stronger today than what it was prior to April 20.”

The Beauty that Came from Columbine

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